An Open Call to Hotels to Not Poison Their Customers: A Procurement Perspective

Being a relatively frequent traveler, I’ve been noticing a steady increase in the placards employing me to conserve energy, to conserve water (by not washing my towels) and to appreciate all the wonderful eco-friendly things the hotel is doing to be more sustainable and help us all be more healthy and happy.

And then my eye turns to the coffee condiments:

  • Sweet’N Low (“a gluten free food” it says on the label). Saccharin. Check.
  • Non-Dairy Creamer. Corn Syrup solids, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, sodium caseinate (ingredient used in glue), monoglycerides and diglycerides, artificial flavor, artifical color. Check.
  • Plastic straws and plastic tray (holding crappy coffee pouch) that had melted/deformed when hot water drips through it and leaches BPA in my coffee. Check.
  • Aspartame-based sweetener. Check.
  • Multiple layers of plastic wrap and cardboard to package up the whole thing. Check.

You get the idea. I’m blissfully clinging to the notion though that sucralose isn’t going to kill me in the short- to medium-term, so please don’t rain on my parade.

My point is this: Rather than telling me to hang up my towels, why don’t you allow me to drink a beverage that is not a toxic slurry of chemicals to start my day? I offered some guidance in my holiday post on the wonderful Aeropress, but that’s a bit of a hassle. So, how about just making sure to have some sucralose, some little creamers and a coffee grade that won’t make a Russian infantryman cringe?

Now, in fairness, the higher-grade hotels do a somewhat better job here, but you’d think that in a hyper-competitive market, hotels would want to find a cost effective differentiator. Instead of a slogan like, “We’ll leave the lights on,” (which is a bit ironic given the backdrop of the usual greenwashing), how about, “We won’t poison you with toxic coffee!” The problem, however, in my opinion is too much of a focus on cost and not enough of a focus on value. Now, where have we heard that before!?

Every time I see the little toxic mélange, I can’t help but picture the hospitality firm’s purchasing agent who is getting easy savings by the sourcing of toxic “kits” of coffee condiments. Why on earth would they pay more? The answer, of course, is that they could improve enterprise value by differentiating their brand (through better customer satisfaction and better sustainability performance), improving loyalty, increasing revenues and maybe even lowering total costs. But, it requires a focus on:

  • Getting the voice of the internal customer, and not just the assumptions of the cost cutters in the firm that procurement may report to. You need customer interest to create a fire that creates change, and too many people have been habituated into accepting this situation. Why not tap into the market pain I feel and maybe educate the market with a viral campaign, which is the only thing marketing departments seem interested in with their social consumer listening frenzy.
  • Focusing on customer-centric metrics. Is it worth paying 30 cents more per stay per night? Have you asked the customers? Would they pay? Can you charge $5 more per night for a higher-level coffee service? Can you offer it as an a la carte offering – even at the time of check in? I’d pay $10 for it. Starbucks is $5 a pop, so there’s money to be made.
  • Innovation! We’re not talking about monstrous hybrids like K-cups, but real innovation here. And this is not just coffee, but everything around hotel design. For example, why not have reusable metal frames in furniture that just get “re-skinned” with a refresh rather than replacing the pieces entirely?
  • Strategic supplier partnerships. Don’t you think that they’re a lot of suppliers with really good ideas and prototypes that would like to disrupt the market and help you disrupt the market? This isn’t just the coffee and soap/shampoo setups, but more broadly around the whole experience.

When buyers are not measured on profitability and brand value – and maybe even just on TCO and spend avoidance as a start – and if they themselves aren’t pushing to get themselves out of their “doing deals and paying bills” box, then we are all stuck drinking crappy coffee.

How about all of you? Are you happy with the state of affairs? Similarly, have you seen any good examples of innovation in the hospitality area that you’d like to share? We need something to look forward to!


Share on Procurious

Voices (2)

  1. Pierre:

    Fascinating. I never knew there was an NGO here and an actual market being sized on this broader requirement – and it’s sad that we need to have ‘tourism’ to supplant what some might argue as basic consumer rights! Coffee drinkers have choice, but everyone has to breathe the air.
    I am an asthma sufferer who is allergic to dust mites and there are a lot of other asthma sufferers too like me who’d likely pay a little more to be in rooms with encased pillows/mattresses, HEPA filters, and cleaned with non-toxic cleaners. Seems like it could be a differentiator – at least toward the higher end of the market. Perhaps the HR wellness people can work with procurement on this one instead of putting employees through the ‘wellness’ ringer to get over-tested, over-prescribed, and over-treated – but that is a topic for another day!

    Thanks for writing in.

  2. Nicson White:

    This is a highly pertinent argument Pierre. There is a US $494b global wellness tourism industry which confirms that procurement and marketing can collectively implement and derive ROI from healthier guest rooms.

    In addition to the areas you mention, SLS and VOC free amenities, low toxicity cleaning chemicals and regular maintenance of HVAC systems and textiles are all elements which bear direct impact on human health. They are also front of mind in both the mainstream and wellness travel consumer.

Discuss this:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.